Dec 15, 2021 - Technology

Game studio head: Condemning overwork isn't enough

Rumbleverse. Screenshot: Iron Galaxy/Epic Games

Rumbleverse. Screenshot: Iron Galaxy/Epic Games

The upcoming battle royale game Rumbleverse had its first playable public demo session last Friday rather than over the weekend — for the sake of the developers’ work-life balance, Iron Galaxy CEO Adam Boyes tells Axios.

Why it matters: Boyes’ studio is one of many trying to find more ethical ways to operate in an industry that often works its developers to the bone.

  • The first look was originally set for last Saturday or Sunday, which would have required Iron Galaxy employees to be on-call to manage the test.
  • “That’s when most gamers are around,” Boyes noted, “but that's sort of one of the things that flies in the face of the culture of the studio, because people don't work weekends here.”

What they’re saying: Boyes, a former PlayStation executive, said he and his fellow studio heads are trying to correct labor mistakes of the past, ones he admits to making himself.

  • “Throughout our career, we committed a lot of sins in pushing people to work late and push themselves harder. And I think a lot of it was just sort of built in the anointment culture of game development, like: ‘I can't believe I'm here. I'm going to work.’”
  • He recalls working at a studio earlier in his career that had a leaderboard for hours worked. He used to be proud of his 110-hour weeks.

These days, many game companies condemn overwork, but doing so isn't enough, Boyes says.

  • “If it's built into the fabric of the culture of the studio, then it doesn't matter whether management condones it or not,” he said.
  • As an example, he described a hypothetical scenario in which workers might leave to eat dinner, only to hear their boss joke that they worked “part time.” No good.

Rumbleverse has been in development for three years by about 80 developers. Much of it has been made during a pandemic and in work-from-home conditions.

  • Boyes said that period has “pushed a lot of our philosophy to the test.”
  • He says overwork is tempting when you're trying to make a game better. It's even harder to stop working when you’re working from home and there's no demarcation of an office.
  • He said he hopes Iron Galaxy's use of anonymous reporting tools for employees, open hours with management and the monitoring of overly long hours can prevent workers from feeling overly pressured.

The bottom line: “The most important thing is just being honest with ourselves and trying to listen as much as possible," Boyes said.

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